We use our jaws to talk, chew, kiss and when stressed we clench/grind. Often times unconsciously we clench and grind our jaws in a moment of thought or stress, some it is even a nervous habit over time. This can lead to many ailments in the head, neck and especially jaw. TMJ stands for Temporal Mandibular Joint dysfunction. Break this down and you know the exact location and can pinpoint the epicenter of the pain. Temporol, meaning the temples on the sides of the skull. Mandibular, meaning mandible, the jaw specifically the lower half of the jaw. And joint, where two or more things are joined to create movement.
You have likely experienced TMJ as 65% to 85% of Americans experience symptoms during their lives. Symptoms include pain and muscle spasms in the head, mandible, neck and shoulder muscles; headaches; earaches; clicking noises or deviations when the mandible moves; limited ability to open the mouth; and dizziness not to mention can cause major dental problems. Causes of TMJ dysfunction include whiplash, bruxism, malocclusion, anxiety, stress, (I just caught myself clenching writing this blog) trigger points and postural dysfunction.When you have TMJ, your unaligned bite causes a ripple effect throughout all these regions and it results in pain and strain throughout the top half of your body. Correcting your bite so that your muscles can function properly and withoutadditional strain can be the difference between living with muscle discomfort or muscle continuity.
Since headaches are a main one I see, lets begin our discussion by assessing the muscles of the neck that can be released through massage therapy. When you clench or grind your teeth you are creating hyper, over used muscles in the head , neck and shoulders. By tight muscles you create an imbalance or compensation of the opposing weaker muscles. The main muscles that connect to your jaw in the front of the neck are called the SCM, Scalene’s (of those there are 3) the posterior upper trap and the muscles deep under the skull. By relaxing these muscles through a series of appointments you are correcting the over all problem and training the jaw to relax downward. Massage therapy is focused toward the reduction of tension in the masticatory muscles, releasing tension in fascia or connective tissue and elimination of trigger points.
Bruxism: Due to stress, people often develop bruxism. Bruxism is a pathological clenching and grinding of teeth that usually occurs during sleep. Bruxism is caused by the hyperactive contraction of the masticatory muscles. Imagine any other muscles in our support and movement system kept under tight contraction for seven hours. Pathological hypertonus in these muscles will be formed, followed by restriction of range of motion, trigger point development, and other symptoms. With time, hypertonic condition in the masticatory muscles leads to the development of osteoarthritis in the TMJ, including negative effects on the articular meniscus. In such a case, the above-mentioned TMJ pathology starts producing severe headaches and painful “clicks.”
Training the mind: So how can you fix the problem daily between massage appointments? I try to make a mental note to relax the jaw many times through the day, I place my tongue on the roof of the mouth with this action it is impossible to clench the jaw. Try incorporating jaw excersizes to build up the weak muscles so you are not compensating. And when I am on the computer or in a stressful situation I take lots of deep breathes and breaks to ease the focus thus stop clenching the jaw. These are a few others to try:
- Use moist heat or cold packs.Apply an ice pack to the side of your face and temple area for about 10 minutes. Do a few simple jaw stretches. When you’re done, hold a warm towel or washcloth to the side of your face for about 5 minutes. Perform this routine a few times each day.
- Eat soft foods. Add yogurt, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, soup, scrambled eggs, fish, cooked fruits and vegetables, beans, and grains to your menu. Cut foods into small pieces so you chew less. Skip hard, crunchy foods (like pretzels and raw carrots), chewy foods (like caramels and taffy), and thick or large bites that require you to open wide.
- Avoid extreme jaw movements. Keep yawning and chewing (especially gum or ice) to a minimum and don’t yell, sing, or do anything that forces you to open wide.
- Don’t rest your chin on your hand. Don’t hold the phone between your shoulder and ear. Practice good posture to reduce neck and facial pain.
- Keep your teeth slightly apart as often as you can. This will relieve pressure on your jaw. Put your tongue between your teeth to control clenching or grinding during the day.
- Learn relaxation techniques to help loosen up your jaw. You may need physical therapy or massage. Consider stress reduction therapy as well. ( i know that last one sound like a joke. but really if your life causes you so much stress you are in constant agony. Please, find a way to relax!
If you would like to work on correcting your TMJ and easing tension and pain please give me a call to book your session today 406-596-5842.
Thank you, Just Breathe Massage Therapy PLLC